How the automotive industry can become a driver of innovation
A conversation with Stephan A. Vogelskamp, Managing Director of automotiveland.nrw
Mr Vogelskamp, is the German automotive industry currently driving innovation, or is it being driven by outside forces?
I can’t give a catch-all answer, as every major automotive company is made up of different divisions. But it’s slowly becoming clear which of these are on the rise and which are on the decline. Our goal as automotiveland.nrw must be to identify what I call the “positive drivers” and work with them.
So, who are the “positive drivers” at the various companies?
That varies from case to case. Sometimes it’s the CEO, sometimes the works council, sometimes members of the research and development team. In each case, they have to fight against the resistance associated with the mobility transformation. I’m not really referring to a stubborn attachment to the combustion engine. There’s already a general consensus that this technology no longer has much of a future. The question is just how long this future will last. And opinions are still divided about that.
Do you believe that the industry still has the potential to continue playing a leading role globally, even in a completely new environment?
Of course, the potential is definitely there – it just needs to be unlocked. And that applies to OEMs and suppliers alike. My impression – and I dare say that I’m not entirely wrong – is that the suppliers sometimes even act as drivers, putting a certain pressure on their traditional German clients. That’s only logical as there are new customers, especially based in the USA and Asia, who expect new components from the suppliers. The example of Volkswagen Group Components, which also supplies third parties outside the group, gives a good indication of the role that the supplier industry will play in the future. Why not produce and sell parts for self-driving cars?
And what about the theory that the focus will soon shift away from selling products and towards offering mobility solutions?
I think that’s correct as well. Producers are becoming providers. The major goal on the horizon is a comprehensive service package that includes fleet management and data management, among other things. There are already any number of pay-per-use ideas around today. To give just one tiny but significant example: if you were to take a self-driving car from A to B, you could book a back massage at the same time, which would be given by the high-tech seat. That way, you would arrive at your destination totally relaxed.
A lack of charging infrastructure is regarded as the major barrier to e-mobility. How long will cars with conventional drive systems still be sold in Germany?
I would guess they will no longer be on the market by 2040 at the latest. Anyone who buys a diesel or petrol car in the next few years will either have to accept that its value will drop massively or plan to run it for a very long time until it’s no longer roadworthy. As far as the charging infrastructure is concerned, some car manufacturers are already acting on their own initiative and introducing various solutions, including mobile charging. It’s clear that the energy aspect has been overlooked for a very long time – and it still is. In the future, the industry will need to establish new partnerships with the energy industry and the public sector.
Thank you very much for your insightful observations.
Stephan A. Vogelskamp is the Managing Director of automotiveland.nrw e.V. and of the infrastructure and business development agency Bergische Struktur- und Wirtschaftsförderungsgesellschaft mbH, both based in North Rhine-Westphalia. A holder of a degree in economics, Vogelskamp’s main areas of expertise include digital transformation, innovation design and new mobility.